Friday, 14 August 2020

Embrace the Change: How Automation Empowers the Network Engineer

I’m a Cisco SE based in Tel-Aviv, Israel. In this role I am constantly meeting with customers to create real-world solutions. Recently, I was meeting with the CIO, infrastructure manager, and network engineer at a major enterprise to discuss an innovation solution that can accelerate desired business outcomes. As always, questions are raised and we find ourselves on a detour covering several linked topics.

When we reach the portion on automation, I see the network engineer starting to move uncomfortably in his chair. We discuss how the solution can both reduce cost and reduce risk for the company, and we seem to strike a chord with the CIO who’s showing increasing interest. As the CIO’s excitement increases, so does the network engineer’s restlessness and, not a moment too soon, starts a parade of objections .

This network engineer is not alone and this is far from an uncommon situation. There are still network engineers who will try to block automation initiatives. Perhaps perceiving them as a threat. It’s a shame, as the reality is quite the opposite. Far from being a threat, automation is today’s great career enhancement opportunity for network engineers.

Digital transformation is here, and it’s here to stay. Across industries, companies are in a constant pursuit of the latest technology, that becomes a critical core of the company’s strategy – and for a good reason: Companies who master digital will not only drive more revenue but, will on average be 29% more profitable than their peers. This is critical and urgent, as 40% of incumbents are at risk of being displaced.

How does this concern the network engineer? Surprisingly, even in 2020 95% of network changes are still being done manually, and 70% of policy violations are caused by… wait for it … human errors!

Cisco Network Engineer, Cisco Study Materials, Cisco Exam Prep, Cisco Learning

As IoT devices are introduced to the enterprise networks (Gartner expects “only” 20 Billion devices by 2020, other predictions aim for 50B), manual configuration of a network will no longer cut it. Automation will become a mandatory skill for every network engineer.

Network engineers who embrace this innovation will be considerably more efficient, and able to position themselves as a strategic asset in the company’s technological future. Those who fail to understand automation will, eventually, become redundant and irrelevant to the industry.

A quick look in LinkedIn job posts reveals that the job titles are changing from “network engineer” to “network automation engineer.” Thinking about a network engineer role at Facebook? Guess what – Python, Perl, Ruby and shell scripting are strongly preferred. JP Morgan? Shell/Python Scripting, and Splunk. Perhaps Bosch? Python again.

Cisco Network Engineer, Cisco Study Materials, Cisco Exam Prep, Cisco Learning

Cisco Network Engineer, Cisco Study Materials, Cisco Exam Prep, Cisco Learning

Cisco Network Engineer, Cisco Study Materials, Cisco Exam Prep, Cisco Learning

Since 75% of the average network engineer’s time is spent on troubleshooting (“keeping the lights on”), and automation can reduce this time consumption significantly, network engineers will actually have the time to invest in learning new skills such as programmability and automation.

Convinced but not sure where to start?

I personally self-learned network-oriented Python programming, and wrote my first API request in Python less than 5 hours later using Cisco’s DevNet. There are many other resources to learn from, for example: CodeAcademy or LearnPython.

What I loved about DevNet is the orientation to network engineers, as opposed to general Python training. DevNet got me up and running very quickly with the focused knowledge and tools a network engineer needs. In addition, DevNet is much more than a website; it’s an interactive developer community, integrated discussion forums, and includes sandboxes – so you can actually practice your code on actual solutions without breaking anything or affecting a production environment.

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